I framed houses for a year out of college — and it taught me a lot about websites.
Just like a house, there are many different ways to build a website. But a family that’s getting one from the ground up wants a house that fits their needs — not a one-size-fits-all box. So should your business.
Here’s how you can frame your website from the ground up.
Create The Blueprint
Just like with a house, there are essentials every website needs and options that can be added on. You need to create a blueprint with both.
As you’re deciding what to include, keep this question in the front of your mind: what is my audience looking for?
The first thing our blueprint needs is these three elements — think of them as the essential rooms of your house, like the bedrooms, bathroom and kitchen. Those elements are your home page, about page and contact page.
This is the first thing people see when they come to your website. It’s the one page that matters the most.
Your home page will look different depending on your business. Some may have more text, others may have more images and videos, some almost nothing (think Google). But there are three specific things the home page has to accomplish.
- Grab attention. We’ve written about attention several times. A good lede, a strong offer, an understanding of space and an awareness of where the user’s eye will go will help you create a home page that grabs attention.
- Showcase your benefit to the customer. Why does your audience care about you? What can you do for your customer? Make sure they know the benefit you provide. Put it up front. For example, if you’re an interior design firm, the front page needs to show style and examples of your work. If you’re an aquarium store that specializes in African cichlids, don’t start with a picture of a goldfish. Make the benefit clear in layout, images and the first one or two sentences of the home page.
- Tell them why they should go with you over someone else. This is crucial. What makes you better than a competitor? We call this the unique selling proposition, or USP. In our aquarium store example, there’s specialty knowledge and inventory. For the design firm, it might be a particular design style or material focus. You could be a value brand, or Goldilocks (“just right”), or luxury. Whatever your USP is, your audience should know it before they get to the end of the first screen.
Once you’ve accomplished these three things, you can move on to other pages.
Every site needs an about page. No matter your goal, this is the second most important page on your site. Your home page is all about what you do. Your about page is where you tell people who you are.
There are two questions to answer:
- Who is behind the brand? This is especially important for brands that rely on personal connections — agencies, for example. Often there will be a biography of the founder and/or the current head of the company. In our case, our about page touches on both Ed Bardwell (current head of the company) and Brian Clark (the founder).
- What’s your company’s mission? Every company wants to make money, but that’s not the reason we get up in the morning and go to work. There has to be something more to it. This is particularly important if a mission is part of your USP — like Patagonia, Allbirds, or the American Heart Association.
The final page you absolutely have to have, no matter what your industry, is your contact page.
You need to make it very clear how people can get in contact with you. What exactly you include will depend on your business. Here are a few of the most common pieces:
- Contact us form. A form that lets people put in their information to make contact, sending an automated email.
- Phone number. Make sure this is a tel tag link; this is important so people can click the link directly from a smartphone to call you.
- Address. If you have a brick and mortar location, tell people how to get there. Include a Google Maps pin embedded in the page.
- Other contact information. Secondary locations, social media profiles, and anything else that might be important to differentiate you from the competition.
With the contact page, your essential “rooms” are complete.
The essential pages are important for every single site, but once you’ve gotten past those, you get into customizing the blueprint for your business. You’re adding the extra rooms — the den, the outdoor kitchen, the home office — that not every floor plan requires.
Each page or set of pages you add to your site should have a purpose — don’t build just for the sake of building. There are three major categories of pages your site might have as options.
For some sites, showing what you sell will be simple. Think of a restaurant — all you need is a regularly-updated menu. But if you’re interested in actually selling online, it can get more complicated. You can sell both products and services online.
Services can include subscriptions (New York Times, Dollar Shave Club), licenses (Microsoft 365, Adobe Creative Cloud), training (consultancy, lessons) and more.
Products can include both physical products (a lawn mower, a pair of glasses) and digital products (an eBook, a course).
Each product or service you sell should have a clear description, and a clear way to buy. If you need a hand setting any of these up, Rainmaker Platform makes it easy, and we can guide you through the process.
Content Marketing Pages
Everybody is a media company today, and you no longer have the choice to sit on the sidelines if you want your site to get attention. A blog, vlog, or podcast must be the backbone of your ongoing content marketing efforts.
You may also have cornerstone content that people keep coming back to — a calculator, a study, a free eBook or course. For example, I study the NBA salary cap in my free time, and the site RealGM includes cornerstone content like minimum salary tables and transaction logs that I refer to regularly for my hobby.
The type of content you choose to create will determine what types of pages you have here, but at the very least you should consider a blog. The barrier to entry is low, there’s proven SEO value, and it’s easily repurposed into other content.
Pages that explain your company culture, history and differentiation are important too — especially for highly mission-driven organizations.
Levi’s is a good example. They have an about page — but they also have a whole constellation of other pages under that about page that explain their culture. Innovation, values, sustainability … if you really want to get under the hood, you can.
This isn’t critical for every site. Most of the time the about page is enough. But for companies that have rich history, strong missions or unique selling propositions that need more explanation, culture pages are a vital addition.
All of these types of pages can be added to your website blueprint. Add the ones that make sense for your business’s “home” — and no more. Then you can get around to actually building them.
Build The Structure
After you’ve created your blueprint, it’s time to actually frame out the structure. That includes both your content and the way your pages are put together.
The content on every page should tie back to your site’s mission and answer these three questions:
- What are you offering?
- Why do I need it?
- What makes it different than your competitors?
Sometimes that tie will be direct — sales pages, for example. Sometimes it will be indirect, like a blog or podcast proving your expertise in your industry. But everything centers on answering these three questions.
People overcomplicate SEO sometimes. The simple truth is this: create content your audience is interested in, structure it in a way that makes sense, and keep it up to date, and Google will love you. Google’s published guidelines on how to do it, and they’re not that hard to follow. But here are a few tips on how to structure your site.
Have a navigation bar at the top of the page. This bar should include all the major pages you want people to see: home, about, contact at the very least. Blog and store pages are often included here too.
Here’s an example from SparkToro:
There are two sales page links (“How It Works” and “Plans”), an About page and two content marketing page links (“Resources” and “Blog).
Include important but non-critical pages in the footer. These include culture pages like mission statements, government-mandated pages like legal disclaimers and privacy policies, and sales pages that see less traffic. Levi’s is a good example:
Don’t orphan pages. Pages on your site should almost always be linked to somewhere else on the site. The only real exception to this is a landing page meant to be accessed via email or social media for a limited period of time. Generating a sitemap can be a great way to make sure everything is linked — there are free tools to help if your site is small enough.
Make it easy for your audience to get the information they want. Too often, people approach their website from the outside in, instead of the inside out. They ask “What can we do to make Google happy?” or “how do we want this to look?” and not “how do we create a site that serves our audience’s needs?”
When you frame a house, you’re creating the structure everything else is built around — the skeleton of the walls, the floors and the roof. Your site works the same way. Don’t try to put the siding and the shingles on first. It doesn’t work.
Construct the Website Your Business Needs
Building a website that fits your business is a lot like building a house for a client. Consider the needs of your audience, then create a blueprint that fits. From that blueprint, create a logical, sturdy structure. And only after that’s done should you worry about fit and finish — the details of your SEO and design.
Follow these guidelines and you can frame your website from the ground up. Need a hand? We can help. Just drop us a line, anytime.
Rainmaker Digital Services